The Financialization of Nature; Or, Neoliberal Environmentalism at Work

The financialization of nature is the process of replacing environmental regulation with markets. In order to bring nature under the control of markets, the planet’s natural resources need to be made into commodities that can be bought and sold for a profit. It is a means of transferring the stewardship of our common resources to private business interests.
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Since the economic slowdown of the early 1970s, the financial sector has played an increasingly large role in our economy. The finance sector’s share of domestic corporate profits rose from below 16 percent in the 1970s and 1980s to as high as 41 percent in the decade before the 2008 financial crisis. In the wake of the financial crisis, after seeing its profits plummet, the sector is back to accounting for about 33 percent of domestic corporate profits.

As the finance sector grew in size, it also grew in strength. Policies in Washington came to reflect the interests of financial actors. The 1980s saw a push for deregulation. The Reagan administration pursued deregulation of industries ranging from energy companies to banking. The move for deregulation became broadly bipartisan in the 1990s and culminated in the passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, which removed regulations put in place during the Great Depression to protect banks from the hazards of speculation.

At the same time, so-called market-based approaches to regulation became popular among policymakers. In the place of regulatory structures that prohibited certain activities, policymakers began to favor providing economic incentives for promoting or discouraging certain behaviors. Perhaps the most prominent example of this is the push for cap-and-trade schemes. Touted as a market-based solution to disincentivize pollution, it actually sells the right to pollute, given that a company can front the cost to do so.

Cap and trade is a radical shift in how environmental regulation works. Traditional environmental regulation relies on permission, prohibition, standard setting and enforcement to meet environmental ends. Regulated sectors need to meet the standard set or face penalties. Most classic U.S. regulation, including the Clean Air Act, first enacted in 1970, and the Clean Water Act, first enacted in 1972, fits that mold.

In contrast, cap and trade attempts to create markets in actual or potential pollution to create an economic incentive to pollute less. Many, but not all, systems also include a cap, a system-wide limit to the amount of pollution that can be emitted. Instead of limiting what an individual plant may emit, each polluter is given an allocation of emissions. If it doesn’t use up that allocation in a year, it may sell those emission allowances to another company that polluted more than its allocation.

Those who oppose simply regulating pollution commonly propose cap and trade as a more “free market” approach to environmental problems. The market is used to allocate costs, rather than using the performance-based indicator of meeting a regulated standard. Proposals for cap and trade systems range from using them to limit greenhouse gases to using them to control water pollution.

What all of these cap-and-trade systems have in common is the creation of a new commodity – the right to pollute – that is then sold in a new market. The credits or allowances for the amount of pollution emitted become the private property of the polluter. Financial actors can then build speculative markets that bet on the future price fluctuations in those credits. Because pollution under the cap-and-trade system is supposed to be controlled by the price of the credits, in so far as the financial markets determine that price, regulation of pollution is transferred to those markets.

The financialization of nature is not about protecting the environment; it is about creating ways for the financial sector to continue to earn high profits. Although the sector has begun to rebound from the financial crisis, it is still below its pre-crisis levels of profit. By pushing into new areas, promoting the creation of new commodities, and exploiting the real threat of climate change for their own ends, financial companies and actors are placing the whole world at risk.

Mitch Jones works on environmental and international trade issues.

 

Film Discussion: When Abortion Was Illegal

March 26, 2017
· 12 rsvps

Directed by Dorothy Fadiman, When Abortion Was Illegal (1992, nominated for an Academy Award, Best Documentary Short Subject) reveals through first-person accounts the experiences of women seeking abortion before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973. We are one Supreme Court nominee away from a return in many states to back-alley abortions. Join Amanda Williams, Executive Director of the Lilith Fund, to discuss challenges to reproductive justice and abortion access. (Lilith Fund funds abortions for women in need in the Central and South Texas area.) Learn about how to participate in April Bowl-A-Thons to raise funds for low-income women. View the film here for free before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

March 30, 2017
· 32 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

LGBT Activism: A Brief History with Thoughts about the Future

April 01, 2017
· 50 rsvps

Historian John D'Emilio's presentation will do 3 things: Provide a brief explanation of how sexual and gender identities have emerged; provide an overview of the progression of LGBT activism since its origins in the 1950s, highlighting key moments of change; and, finally, suggest what issues, from a democratic socialist perspective, deserve prioritizing now. John co-authored Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, which was quoted by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision that ruled state sodomy laws unconstitutional. 1 pm ET; 12 pm CT; 11 am MT; 10 am PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Peg Strobel, peg.strobel@sbcglobal.net.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 30 rsvps

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But also check out the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT. Here's a blog post about PHIT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

April 04, 2017
· 53 rsvps

Join Rahel Biru, NYC DSA co-chair, and Joseph Schwartz, DSA Vice-Chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement.  9 PM ET; 8 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 6 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Joseph Schwartz, schwartzjoem@gmail.com.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Feminist Working Group

April 12, 2017
· 14 rsvps

People of all genders are welcome to join this call to discuss DSA's work on women's and LGBTQ issues, especially in light of the new political reality that we face after the elections.  9 pm ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

April 16, 2017
· 6 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 9 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.